This is an email that was sent out to the WKPP, Quest and The Gavin Scooter List by Casey McKinlay about Saturday's historic dive to connect these two systems.
Congratulations to a tireless group of explorers that have worked for 17 years to realize this moment.
Originally Posted by Casey McKinlayWKPP
The long awaited physical connection between the Wakulla Springs and Leon Sinks cave systems was established Saturday, July 28 at 12:20pm. Approximately 11,200ft downstream of Turner Sink Jarrod and I entered a massive room with floor to ceiling relief of 120ft+ and wall to wall distance in excess of 100ft. The floor was 300ft+ and the line was positioned on the left side of the room. I held the line while Jarrod scouted a large opening on the right wall behind a large silt bank. A few minutes later he returned and with a calm sort of confidence indicated it looked reasonable for perhaps the first of several attempts to locate the incoming R-Tunnel from Wakulla. The map indicated it was in this general vicinity somewhere but what would it look like? Would it be passable? All good questions with nothing taken for granted after the last 450 minute excursion to the end of the line where the cave shut down. I switched on the video camera and 50wt light as Jarrod tied in and headed for the dark spot on the wall. The tunnel looked reasonable and quickly turned left around a corner and into another massive room with openings right and left. Too many options in my opinion as both anxiety and anticipation began to build. With a fresh stage plugged in and 2 extras clipped off we were committed to spending as much time as necessary to find the way. We made another left into a medium sized room that did not look good as I held back to look at the large, dark opening to the right. Too many left turns already. I was concerned we would end up intersecting the Turner line in some sort of loop. Jarrod backed up and went right into another massive room and the tunnel began to take shape. We took another right as Jarrod wrapped on a huge rock center conduit and continued on. This was good, keep making right turns. It was difficult to check the compass on my left arm because holding the camera steady with the scooter took both hands. I started thinking out loud that the line was here somewhere. Perhaps over the next rise or around the next corner? Where was it, the anticipation was killing me. It would be tied off on the right wall at a corner with a large rock outcropping and it could not be much farther unless the survey was totally off. As we rounded the next corner and looked at the right wall I saw something that did not look natural hanging down from a rock outcropping. It was a loop of line. If there was a blue arrow on the other side of that rock with “Wakulla Springs” on it we had done it. The arrow was right where we had left it a month earlier on the 600min, 24,000ft ride from the Wakulla entrance. After 17 years the WKPP had finally connected Wakulla Springs to Leon Sinks. The team would be pleased. I could feel the pressure that had been building over the years begin to release. It was a good day for the WKPP.
It is difficult to put into perspective the amount of effort it took over the past 17 years as an official project to accomplish this goal. In addition to the WKPP, there were many well know explorers going back another 50 years that have helped piece together the mystery of Leon Sinks and Wakulla Springs. There also existed some amount of skepticism as to whether it was even possible to connect these systems. Would the cave shut down? Would the cave come shallow? Was there a sinkhole somewhere? Would the cave ever clear to allow exploration? Would we have the team and capabilities to support the effort? In the end, it came down to a favorable weather pattern, a great team, good data and a willingness to push hard and accept the abuse from brutal exposure after brutal exposure. What is most notable to me this season and last was the process by which we targeted this section of cave, used the data, effectively dealt with each setback and continued to push onward. Had we not decided to push into Wakulla in September of 2006 when conditions were horrible we may never have confirmed clear water in A-Tunnel past the O intersection. Having that piece of information resulted in the second dive which confirmed the loop and isolated an area of interest around 7,000ft. The importance of survey data and using the data to further narrow down areas of interest was the primary reason behind the decision to return to Turner this month as opposed to another brutal and riskier push from the Wakulla side. Good data, good people, good plan, good decisions and the rest, well, WKPP cave diving history.
There are so many people to recognize that I am not sure where to start. The team extends beyond the official WKPP roster including support at home, Halcyon production staff, GUE staff, Florida DEP, Todd Kincaid and his team at Hazlett-Kincaid, Gene Hobbs, Dr. David Doolette, Tallahassee Hyperbarics, Wakulla Park Staff, Dale S., Extreme Exposure staff, Anthony Rue and the video team, Corey Smith, David Rhea and the photo teams, Mark Garland for coming back strong, John Rose for sticking it out, Sankey, Gavin, English, Turner, Scarabin, Irvine and last but not least my dive partner Jarrod Jablonski. It is difficult to explain at times but we both suffer from an inability to know when enough is enough. Fortunately that is exactly what is needed to explore in the WKP.
I look forward to communicating the details and sharing the photos and videos as they become available. Thank you all for your support.
Woodville Karst Plain Project